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The Jackson family

Balancing dinner with football practice

Background: Navigating after-school activities
Sarah Jackson is a working mother whose husband is on disability. They have 8-year old twins. They lead busy lives with work schedules, school, and lots of activities for their kids (their son plays football, which involves a big investment of time).

The family mostly eats at home, with Sarah and her husband doing all of the cooking. Generally, they try to include a variety of foods, including starches, vegetables, and meat; Mexican food and spaghetti are favorites.

In discussing the concept of family dinner with Sarah, the focus is on the food, rather than the conversation. Sarah feels that the food is the cornerstone of the “dinner experience,” and she is interested in learning more about different recipes and food she can make for her kids.  She is also interested in learning how to get her kids more involved in the kitchen and with meal preparation.

An ideal meal: Gathering everyone together
Sarah also places value on family dinners as a form of connection. She describes her ideal dinner as one which brings together the entire family in a shared meal (she includes extended family in this ideal picture).  She mentioned Sunday dinner as a staple in their week, during which she and her family enjoy a bountiful meal.

Conversation is usually not a challenge for the family — Sarah and her husband treat family dinner as a time to listen to their kids and whatever topics they want to raise at the table. Sarah cares less about how much time they spend together at the table, and more about the quality of the meal and the connection they experience as a family while being together.

Setting goals: Interesting meal ideas and more dinner participation
The Jackson’s goals for participation in The Family Dinner Project are clear and simple: Sarah would like more ideas for different kinds of food she can make, and she would like her kids to get involved with all aspects of meal preparation and clean up.

Sarah does not think that they need to focus on conversation, since they come to this “easily.” As she says, “We’ve always had conversation around the table, my husband and I are the sounding board for our kids…we listen to the kids, help them understand that we value their thoughts and try to get them to open up, and to talk about everything and anything.”

Success #1: Involving the twins in making dinner
At the beginning of her involvement in The Family Dinner Project, Sarah noted that her children’s participation in the preparation of dinner was lacking. However, as the program progressed, she was able to get the children involved with the cooking by leading them to believe that they were “in charge” of the process.

Depending on the schedule of activities (especially football) the kids’ participation in preparing family meals differed. But in general, Sarah was satisfied that her children want to be more involved in learning about the dinner process.

Sarah believes this increase in participation has helped the family feel closer and more “bonded.” They have started a calendar, which divides the workload among the family members.

Success #2: Fresh food ideas from the website
Sarah reported using recipes from The Family Dinner Project website, including the whole-wheat tacos and roast chicken. She particularly enjoyed the quick and easy preparation involved with this meal.

Reflecting on progress: Eating together more frequently
Reflecting on the project, Sarah describes some changes that have occurred since the beginning. She reports that the family comes together more often for dinner (3-4 meals a week), although the timing is difficult to change because of rigid schedules.

Though it was not a focus of their participation, Sarah reports that conversations have been “good” and “open,” and they talk about a range of things. For the most part, ethics and values are not specifically raised at the dinner table. Sarah comments that these conversations arise “in the moment,” such as on the way home from school, on the playground, or as they are getting ready in the morning.

Looking ahead: More nutritious food and planning in advance
Sarah hopes to incorporate more new, nutritious foods into their regular meals, new recipes, and “new directions” for family bonding. She would like to try to prepare more than one meal on Sundays and to prepare homemade food to store in their freezer.